Have you ever glared with envy at a co-worker who sidestepped the pizza for a salad without complaint? Sure, you could probably eat a salad, but why would you do that when there is perfectly good pizza Wouldn’t it be nice if you wanted the salad instead of the pizza? Wouldn’t it be easier to stay within your daily calories and eat more fruits and vegetables if your body actually craved them? Well, there’s good news. You can actually train your brain to crave healthy foods. But it takes some willpower to get started. To unlock the ability to crave fresh fruit and vegetables, you first have to understand why you desire high-calorie meals.
Typical reasons we crave unhealthy food
The price tag: At a quick glance, the cost of fresh meals can seem higher than alternatives. If you’re trying to keep more cash in your bank account, you might be tempted to see the short-term gains of choosing unhealthy options.
The convenience: Running through the drive-thru before or after work is easy. Taking the time to slow down and think about what you’re eating and how it fits with the rest of what you’ve eaten that day can be hard work.
Emotions associated with sugar, fats and salt: Almost everyone has some sort of treat on their birthday. Over time, we associate treats with celebrations and good feelings. Ever stress eat when things don’t seem to be going your way? This habit is basically a ritual to summon good feelings – even if those good feelings don’t address the problem causing you stress.
So how do we kick these habits? First, decide which of the previous habits most describes your relationship with unhealthy foods. Even if you were nodding your head along to all three, pick one to focus on for now. Next, you’ll mentally prepare to address those issues. Here are a few examples to help you get started.
“Healthy foods aren’t affordable.” Last year, the USDA published a study that found the opposite of this myth. Kevin Concannon, former under secretary at the USDA, said “Protein foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains.” Plus, combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is more likely to save you money in the long run due to fewer health issues associated with poor food intake.
“Unhealthy food is easier.” This is one where you’ll need to summon a little willpower. Food prep can’t get much easier than peeling a banana. Unhealthy foods seem easier because over the years, you’ve probably developed a habit of reaching for them instead of other options. Look at the variety of foods available, and ask yourself if a fresh-food option would really be more difficult to eat.
“Certain foods make me happy.” The trick here is to ask yourself what it is about these foods that makes you happy. Is it the taste? Do they inspire memories of good times? Once you know why certain foods elicit happy emotions, you can find other activities to fill the gap after you’ve eliminated them from your diet.
Once you’ve established why you crave certain foods, you can change your mindset.
Don’t snack mindlessly. Eating while browsing the internet, watching TV or working can lead to dissatisfaction. At meals, no matter what you’re eating, tune out distractions and focus on tasting the complex flavors in front of you.
Slow down. It’s so easy to rush through a meal when you’re hungry but doing so means you’re not able to fully enjoy it. One trick to help you slow down your meal is to drink more of your beverage. Every few bites, set down your fork or lean back from your plate and enjoy a refreshing drink. Water provides a great way to cleanse your palate so your taste buds do not get bored.
Find another stress outlet. If you’re eating certain foods as a way to feel better, you need to replace that entire activity with something else. Finding someone to talk to might be enough. Some enjoy activities such as using adult coloring books, exercising or journaling.
If you’re reaching for certain foods because you want them to help you feel better, you have to recognize that the feeling will be short-lived. Retraining your brain to associate fresh and healthy foods with positive emotions will take time. You didn’t just wake up one day loving sugary or fatty foods – you learned to love them as you aged. Start with small changes first – like adding an orange to your usual breakfast – and if you stick to it, you’ll become the co-worker that goes for the salad.